- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

U.S. Ambassador John Blaney recently took a direct approach to spreading peace and order in Liberia: He hand-delivered a dog-eared copy of an Aug. 18 peace accord to rebels in Liberia’s second-largest city, Buchanon. As Mr. Blaney approached the rebel outpost, controlled by a group known as Model, he saw the following sign: “Model in Action. Fire Reply Fire. Ecomil, Don’t Try It, Slow Down.” Mr. Blaney — along with E.U. diplomat Geoffrey Rudd and Brig. Gen. Festus Okonkwo, commander of an African peacekeeping force known as Ecomil — pressed on.

Amazingly, Folly Jalay, the rebel commander of the area, said he had never seen the peace agreement which Mr. Blaney handed him. Under the deal between Model and another group known as Lurd, an interim power-sharing government, led by a neutral leader, would take control in October, and elections would be held in 2005. Mr. Jalay said that as soon as he had word from his leader, he and his rebels would be happy to cooperate with Ecomil peacekeepers. Model is the second-largest rebel group and controls much of southeastern Liberia.

This initiative demonstrates that a low-cost, grass-roots strategy and some old-fashioned courage can help counter violence in war-torn areas. The bureaucratic rigidities inherent in multinational peacekeeping efforts should not prevent independent endeavors. Whether it be in Liberia, Iraq or Afghanistan, military and diplomatic officials on the ground should be given latitude to propose creative solutions. The United States and other countries that will support Liberia’s reconstruction should also keep in mind some of Afghanistan’s lessons, and concentrate funding on local levels, rather than deliver a large federal kitty that warlords would fight over.

So far, the effort in Liberia has been well-conceived. Law and order, as well as the delivery of humanitarian relief, have been given top priority, while democracy-building will be restored gradually. West African countries have led their own peacekeeping effort, thereby empowering regional players to address the continent’s problems.

The signing of the Aug. 18 peace accord was an important milestone in Liberia. But outside of Monrovia, where West African peacekeepers have established order, rebel fighting and arbitrary violence continues to threaten civilians. Some of this fighting has been ordered by rebel leaders, but to some extent it also appears to be driven by individuals seeking to settle old scores through continuing attacks. In some parts of the country, one out of six women have been raped.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to approve a peacekeeping deployment in the near future. The enterprising efforts of Mr. Blaney and others could save the lives of troops and civilians. The United States should ensure that sound policies accompany the arrival of peacekeepers and aid money. And it should find more diplomats like Mr. Blaney.

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